End of day six and as with any trip with this level of intensity and pace, it is hard to believe that it is almost over. Today we had our last round of site visits, tomorrow we worship with a local congregation and then Monday we begin our journey back home.
What to say, what to say? There really is so much that has happened over the past few days from going back through Port-Au-Prince, traveling to Cap Haitien on the norther side of Haiti and seeing a few more partner sites.
It seems that the overwhelming topic of conversation for us has been "what does it really mean to be good partners in mission?". It really is an old drum song, but it is true, sometimes in our compassion and eagerness to show love and healing, we do much more long-term harm than we could ever have imagined.
Without giving too much details about our conversations with locals, it is clear that we - THE US (Church and non-church) still find ourselves acting in very colonial ways oblivious to some of the cultural realities of Haiti. Again, well-intentioned, but often our actions have been short-sighted and harmful in the long run.
But, as all know especially post-earthquake, many people want come to Haiti to help. When we see images of some of the areas of Haiti and level of poverty, what person would NOT want to feed and clothe those who are in need? And indeed, relief work is sometimes needed, but eventually if we are truly interested in becoming partners that work together we must move the conversations and our actions to development and sustainability.
So how do we make sure to the best of our ability to be here in helpful ways. The folks I have been hanging out with are so well versed in the nuances of mission experiences that a I have gleaned a little from them by articulating for myself, some of the questions that I would pose for any community that I was working with who want to engage in short term mission
Why do you want to go?
What do you hope to gain?
Who is this trip REALLY for?
Is what we offer really needed and best done by us?
Is our involvement going to be WITH people or FOR people?
What kind of critial analysis before and afterward are you commit to: issues, culture, history, etc.?
How will we connect with our partners that have been working with our church, in our case the PC(USA) in order to understand the nuances of out historic church relationships.
Now the answers to these questions seem obvious, but they are only helpful if, and only if, we truly embrace the challenge and discipline that is required. Now I would I NEVER say there is never a time to engage in this kind of activity, but according to When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Ourselves, by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbet, in 2006 alone it is estimated that 1.6 BILLION dollars was spent by US church on short-term mission.
Let that sink in.
My next post will be a final reflection and thanks you, so until then, peace.
Day 4 is coming to a close and we are now at the MPP Compound in Papay, the entire place runs on a generator, so while there is internet, I am at the mercy of curfew.
I'll start with yesterday and our time with the Carlins and Ms. Shannon at the COmprehensive DEvelopment Project (CODEP) in Leogane. Nichol and Mike Carlin are from Pittsburg and, while not officially related to the Presbyterian Church (USA) they were part of the PC(USA) mission personnel orientation and the PC(USA) has had connections to CODEP and the Haiti Fund in the past. Through reforestation projects, agribusiness, fish ponds, etc. they hope to partner with local folks to cooperate with and assist the people of rural Haiti by initiating, funding, administering, and sustaining development programs aimed at increasing self-sufficiency.
The amazing ministry aside, what I as really moved by were Mike and Nichol's willingness to take on this challenge that God was calling them to in Haiti. With campus ministry roots, four kids and English as their main lingo, they up and moved to Haiti to help lead this project. As we sat and talked, it is clear that God is calling them to this place at this time. Their willingness to reflect upon, but not dwell upon the past in order to best discern what God has in store for the future was remarkable. They do this both as folks called into a particular role in the organization as well as for the project itself. I was so very blessed by my time with them, I can't wait to see what will happen as they move forward.
And then today was a day spent with Presbyterian Mission Co-Worker, Mark Hare [BLOG] and the project that he works with Papay Peasant Movement (MPP). I have heard of Mark from friends and read his blog about Haiti and agriculture. After just a few days with him, it is clear that this dude is the real deal. After spending time previously in Haiti and then in Nicaragua before returning to Haiti, Mark and his wife, Jenny are what I would think would be the epitome of Mission Co-workers. It is obvious that Mark has gained a great level of trust with the community, he uses his gifts and skills well, and most importantly he is doggedly committed to being present in a way that lifts up those among whom he has been called to serve. With a quick wit in many languages and serious agricultural skills, anyone spending time with this project and Mark would see call in action. And FWIW, I did a little "work" with Mark's Road to Life Yard Crew so take it from me, if you want to get schooled on issues of sustainable agricultural practices, be sure to follow his blog.
So it is with the Carlin's and Mark in mind that I have been reflecting greatly upon the ministry of global mission. Yes, there is always mission to be done in our very communities, but just as there is a particular calling to other unique ministry contexts, I am getting a quick glimpse into the lives of Mission Co-workers. You see, out of all seven of the delegation, I am the only one without significant mission service within a context outside of the United States. I am also the only one that does not speak at least three languages. *sigh* I am just going to take it as a compliment that they have been able to be so free to talk and interact with eachother without worrying about keeping me included, so I feel like I have been privy to some profound and deeply rooted conversations on mission service. I have been able to get a peak into some wonderful history, some current joys/struggles and some musings on what might be . . . what a privilege.
Now I did tease folks that I was going to blog about the what I am picking up to be a quirkiness about those that answer a call to mission service, but for now, I'll just focus on my reflections. After all, i still have a few days with these folks and who knows what else I will learn ;-)
While I have a deep desire to engage in mission works someday, it would be far to easy to romanticize the experience. Just as with any call to ministry: new church development, chaplaincy, campus minister, head-of-staff, etc. there is now ranking of what is better. In the eyes of God, a call is a call is a call. HUMANS may unintentionally may have built up prioritization "sexy" callings, but God certainly has not such list.
I remember when people have said to me what a great job planting a church must be: how freeing, how exciting, how fun, etc. It would almost always be said as if I chose something easy and wasn't willing to "suffer" like them. Good grief, it only feels that way because I was CALLED to it and all the crap that we all deal with in ministry has been part of the joy-filled experience of church planting. Yes it was hard, frustrating and overwhelming, but in the end it was what God wanted me to do and my heart and soul have been filled with joy.
As I have spent time with these past and current mission workers, it is clear that the experience brings them joy. There may be a ton of struggle, but in the end it seems as if they know that God is meeting them in this particular place for a particular reason. When that happens, that is call. And in the context of Haiti now, finding joy in the midst of call, that is truly of God.
So for all mission workers in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and elsewhere who have answered the call, thank you.
Due to the gas shortage in Haiti, our means of transportation was always a little adventurous. Buying gas on the side of the road from vendors who dip out of a barrel, always running traveling with the gas tank on E so no one would steal the car, and well paying $10-$15 per gallon. Here is our last fill-up before, yes, we ran out of gas.
I am writing this at night after everyone has gone to bed at the guest house of the CODEP compound. It has cooled off quite a bit, there is a wonderful ocean sound calling me to hit the hay and about 25 bugs have decided to have a party on my laptop screen.
But that's enough about me, Day 2 in Haiti. Sorry about the rambling brevity, but the boy is sleepy and if I am going to keep up with all these energetic mission folks who wake up really too early, I need my beauty sleep ;-)
It was once again a packed day of visiting sites, talking with organizers and observing the sites, sounds and life of Haiti. We visited two main sites today in Léogâne to visit Holy Cross Hospital, The Nursing School, a field hospital and the CODEP Reforestation Project.
There is so much that struck me today as we traveled the roads and meet with folks. From seeing some of the more devastated areas - an estimated 90% of the houses in Léogâne were destroyed by the earthquake - to seeing the piles and piles of "Junk for Jesus" that well-intentioned folks have burdened organizations because they did not ask what was needed before sending so much; it was a good day of soaking things in.
As I listened to folks and talked with the delegation, I have learned so much about this particular country. You must remember that I really had no previous interactions about Haiti before this, so I am loving getting whirlwind education on some of the ins and outs of such a complex country and culture. I took the picture above while walking on the beach this afternoon. While beautiful, if you look closer you will see that the beach is littered with garbage: plastic bottles, shoes and more etc. This beautiful beach marked with the "sins" of humanity. The connections are obvious: the troubles of Haiti run deep and are complex and MANY have been complicit in it's hardships.
Again, I am not a Haiti expert, but I do know that simply sending a container full of stuff a hospital does not need nor ever asked for may be easy, well-intentioned and feel good, it ends up doing more harm than good, it wastes resources and we really do not do much good in the long run.
So . . . today's takeaway is much the the first days: if we are SERIOUS about being a part of long-term, effective and strategic recovery . . . . partnership, partnership, partnership.
And that is where I must end it because I am about to fall asleep. Tomorrow we get a site tour of the reforestation project and then we road trip for the day to Visit Fondama and Papay Farmers Movement.
The best sight we saw today blocked our way for about 15 minutes on our way to Léogâne. Yes that is the metal frame of a house that is being carried down the street. Because of the tight spaces in which houses are built, there was not room for the construction of the frame, so it was built elsewhere and carried down the street by about 15 guys and placed right in between to other homes.
Right now I am sitting in the cool night air in Haiti so very grateful for a full day of traveling and touring Port-au-prince. There are so many words to describe what I and other members of our delegation have experienced thus far: from deep sadness, to joyous fellowship to simply being overwhelmed by what we have seen and heard. So with my brain on overdrive - forgive the rambling nature of this post - here are just a few of the reflections that I have on the day.
The devastation: Honestly, I really had no idea what to expect visually, emotionally, spiritually, etc. I am always a little skeptical of the media's take on these kinds of things. Was the destruction going to be much worse that reported or was this all overblown? I suppose after a day of driving around much of Port-au-prince, the answer for the city is yes: massive destruction, but glimpses of hope. As we drove around, we were blown away by buildings that were reduced to piles of rebar and concrete dotted with an occasional chair, piece of clothing or automobile. Some of the sites that were most impacted by the earthquake that we saw were surreal, almost movie like. Add to those realities the tent cities that dot the city, the obvious poverty that has gripped so many and the overall sense of trauma, the whole situation is simply incomprehensible to me.
But . . .
Just as we experienced so much destruction and pain, we were also gifted with many moments of creation and hope. During our meeting with Bishop Jean-Zache Duracin,we learned of many ways the church has been responding to so much pain. As we toured the city, we each noticed the resilience and creativity that has been demanded of the the Haitian people in a time of chaos and instability. This is, of course little comfort and in no ways should be construed as me saying that reconstruction efforts appear to be going well, but rather, it does NOT seem like there is an overwhelming sense of resignation and despair.
Our task: The main reason we are on this trip is two-fold with the first reason being to express, by way of The Moderator, the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s continued support for the people of Haiti and their recover efforts. Through prayer, mission personnel and financial resources we want to be a helpful partner in the systematic and personal rebuilding efforts. The second reason we are here is, as we make plans to increase our presence in Haiti life, we want to avoid repeating past mistakes that so many well-intentioned church entities have done before: do something that they THINK is needed, when in fact the people being impacted actually need our support in different ways. Not only does this kind of action create short-sighted and fleeting results, but we fail to understand that partnership demands two-way interaction and, in my opinion long-term, systematic engagement. We have already had some good conversations to affirm both our support for the country as well as our yearning to know how we can best leverage our resources towards rebuilding efforts.
The group: One of the best parts of these kinds of trips is getting to know other members of the delegation. So far we have crammed grown adults into spaces in cars not meant for two, I have marveled at the stories of these amazing veteran mission workers and we have begun to build some creative and hope-filled dreams for future engagement of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Haiti. Lead by our fearless leader, Pix, if the next seven days are anything like the first, she along with Maria, Doug, Bill, Bob and Ruth will be etched into my memories forever.
Lastly . . . on a personal note, my wife Robin and I have agreed that we shall have no more adventures without one another. Sure, the girls can come along if they want - just jokin' . . . sort of - but after spending the last two years experiencing some wonderful places and people, there is something missing because my rock star wife has not been directly part of those moments. We know that this was part of this whole Moderator deal, but it has affirmed that in our relationship we yearn for and need to see and experience life together.
“Peace it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
Thank to all who have asked for this. This is a compilation of many different benedictions that I have heard throughout the years, no originality claimed, just some great opportunities to share it.
Go forth into the world
With compassion and justice in your heart
Give voice to the silent
Give strength to the weak
See one another
Hear one another
Care for one another
And love one another
It's all that easy
And it's all that hard
Now may the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ
The love of God
And the power of the Holy Spirit
Be with us all, now and forever more